Four days before the Aug. 27 St. Francis School District 15 school board meeting, Marsha Van Denburgh found out that one of her fellow board members wanted her removed as the chairperson.
After a lengthy discussion, the board decided on a 3-2 vote against her removal. Boardmembers Amy Kelly and Janet Glover voted for the motion to remove; boardmembers David Anderson, Harry Grams and Van Denburgh were opposed.
Boardmembers Suzanne Erkel and Matt Rustad, who usually vote with Van Denburgh on many issues, were absent.
With Van Denburgh as chairperson, the best interests of the students are not being served, said Glover, who made the request to remove Van Denburgh.
“This is not about how you run the meetings or how you represent your constituents,” she said.
The board meetings seem to have become more about nitpicking and fighting with administration than district business, Glover said.
Instead of using administration as a tool and meeting with it for more information and clarification on issues, Van Denburgh waits until the meetings and takes the time to point out spelling errors and the proper placement of commas as well as procedural issues, according to Glover.
The superintendent’s performance evaluation should have been completed by July 1, a responsibility of the chairperson, but it has not been done, Glover said.
Negotiations are coming up on his contract, she said.
Glover said when she talks to the administrative staff about board business and asks if Van Denburgh has talked to them and what her thoughts are, many times the staff have told her Van Denburgh has not talked to them.
“Why won’t you come in and talk to them. You don’t have to like them but you still have to respect them and work with them,” Glover said.
Van Denburgh also needs to respect the votes of the board members, she said.
“I am so frustrated,” Grams said. “I am so sick of seeing this stuff on the agenda. There is so much nitpicking during the meetings. We are supposed to be directing the business of the district.”
In his seven years on the board, he has never been more frustrated, he said.
While the board needs to change its direction, Grams said he does not agree with the resolution to remove Van Denburgh.
“This board needs to step up and do its job,” he said.
Anderson agreed and shared Gram’s frustration.
But he will take some responsibility for that because he has not addressed his concerns with Van Denburgh in a forthright manner, Anderson said.
Instead of addressing his concerns regarding Van Denburgh’s actions earlier this year to remove administration members from the board table without consulting the rest of the board, he cast a vote to return them to the table and figured that would tell her he had a concern, he said.
Anderson was also frustrated on how the Van Denburgh’s removal request was done.
He heard about the removal request from a community member before receiving his own packet. These things need to be discussed by the board and then brought back as an resolution, he said.
Since Van Denburgh has been the chairperson, using the administration as a board tool does not seem to have the same value as it once did, Anderson said.
In addition to the disregard for the administration, “we seem to have the same level of disrespect among us as board members,” he said.
Several of the board members were upset that Van Denburgh left the Aug. 13 meeting because she felt the board violated “Roberts Rules” and board policy by bringing back a resolution from the July 9 meeting that failed on a 3-3 tie vote.
“No matter what happens, the board chair (person) needs to stay and work through the issues. It is what you were elected to do,” Anderson said.
It was disrespectful to the board to leave because she did not agree with the rest of the board, which voted to bring the resolution to renew its membership to Schools for Equity in Education lobbying group back, according to Kelly.
Board members will not always see eye to eye but it is important to have respect for other board members and their decisions, Kelly said.
Kelly feels that Van Denburgh’s leadership is “about axes to grind” and that is more important to her, she said.
The chairperson needs to work with the administration and she does not see that happening nor does she hear that Van Denburgh is meeting and discussing things with the district administrators or with the other board members, Kelly said.
“I ran for board because I believe in education and I feel like we have moved away from that,” she said.
“This board needs to pull together and start making decisions for the kids…”
Differences need to be discussed at the board table, Anderson said.
While he agrees with Glover that changes need to be made, he said he is not sure that includes the removal of Van Denburgh as the chairperson.
Van Denburgh’s response
“I was surprised by the resolution,” said Van Denburgh.
While Van Denburgh said she hears the frustrations and feelings of her fellow board members, she was not properly notified of this resolution or given specific reasons for her removal.
Glover said before requesting the removal resolutions be placed on the agenda, she checked three different sources to make sure the resolution and notification requirements were done properly.
Kelly said the resolution’s inclusion in the Aug. 27 agenda packet, which was delivered to boardmembers Aug. 23, was sufficient notice and done as recommended by the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA).
Van Denburgh said she was blindsided by this resolution because the board members have never voiced their concerns to her prior to this meeting.
She asked the board members to allow her to remain as chairperson, especially as two of the board members were absent.
“I have made mistakes, but I don’t think they are egregious to (warrant) removal,” she said.
“I would like to do a better job for you and the people who come to the meetings.”
“But I think it is important that the chairperson follows the organizational rules.”
“The only place this board can go is up. The bottom line is that the board works for the 6,000 students in the district,” Grams said.
Grams and Anderson both suggested the board work with MSBA and hold workshops.
“We have talked about doing work sessions, building a better board and doing data driven decisions. We have not done that in quite a while,” Anderson said.
“We need to take those steps to go forward,” he said.
Tammy Sakry is at firstname.lastname@example.org